Working Group I: The Scientific Basis

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3.6 Carbon Cycle Model Evaluation 3.6.1 Terrestrial and Ocean Biogeochemistry Models

The interactions of complex processes as discussed in Section 3.2 can be analysed with models that incorporate current knowledge at the process level, including syntheses of experimental results. Process-based models make it possible to explore the potential consequences of climate variability for the global carbon cycle, and to project possible future changes in carbon cycling associated with changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation. Models can be run with prescribed inputs such as observations of surface climate and CO2 or the output of climate models. They can also be coupled to atmospheric general circulation models (Cox et al., 2000; Friedlingstein et al., 2000), to allow simulation of a wider range of interactions between climate and the carbon cycle.

Process-based terrestrial models used in carbon cycle studies are (a) terrestrial biogeochemical models (TBMs), which simulate fluxes of carbon, water and nitrogen coupled within terrestrial ecosystems, and (b) dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs), which further couple these processes interactively with changes in ecosystem structure and composition (competition among different plant functional types; Prentice et al., 2000). The treatment of carbon-nutrient interaction varies widely; for example, some models treat nitrogen supply explicitly as a constraint on NPP, while others do not. There are currently about 30 TBMs and <10 DGVMs. Cramer and Field (1999) and Cramer et al. (2001) reported results from intercomparisons of TBMs and DGVMs respectively. A current international project, Ecosystem Model/Data Intercomparison (EMDI), aims to test models of both types against a large set of terrestrial measurements, in order to better constrain the modelled responses of terrestrial carbon cycling to changes in CO2 and climate.

Process-based ocean models used in carbon cycle studies include surface exchange of CO2 with the atmosphere, carbon chemistry, transport by physical processes in the ocean, and transport by marine biology. The parametrization of marine biology can be classified as (a) nutrient-based models where the export of carbon below the surface ocean (approximately the top 50 m) is a function of surface nutrient concentration, (b) nutrient-restoring models in which biological carbon fluxes are set to the rates required for maintaining observed nutrient concentration gradients against dissipation by ocean mixing, and (c) models that explicitly represent the food chain involving nutrients, phytoplankton, zooplankton and detritus (NPZD models). In current models, the uptake of anthropogenic CO2 is controlled mainly by physical transport and surface carbon chemistry, whereas the natural carbon cycle is controlled by physical, chemical and biological processes. The Ocean Carbon Cycle Model Intercomparison Project (OCMIP) compared the performance of four ocean models with respect to natural and anthropogenic tracers (Sarmiento et al., 2000; Orr et al., 2001), and is currently undergoing a similar comparison with 13 models and an extended data set (Orr and Dutay, 1999).

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